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The inclinations of the senate
were neither doubtful nor divided. The birth
and noble alliances of the Gordians had intimately connected them with the most illustrious houses of Rome. Their fortune had created
many dependants in that assembly, their merit had acquired many friends. Their mild administration
opened the flattering prospect of
the restoration, not only of the civil but even of the republican government. The terror of military violence, which had first obliged the
to forget the murder
, and to ratify the election of a barbarian peasant
now produced a contrary effect, and
provoked them to assert the injured rights of freedom and humanity. The hatred of Maximin
towards the senate
was declared and
implacable; the tamest submission had not appeased his fury, the most cautious innocence would not remove his suspicions; and even
the care of their own safety urged them to share the fortune of an enterprise, of which (if unsuccessful) they were sure to be the first
victims. These considerations, and perhaps others of a more private nature, were debated in a previous conference of the consuls and
the magistrates. As soon as their resolution was decided, they convoked in the temple of Castor the whole body of the senate
according to an ancient form of secrecy, 22
calculated to awaken their attention, and to conceal their decrees. "Conscript fathers,"
said the consul Syllanus, "the two Gordians, both of consular dignity, the one your proconsul
, the other your lieutenant, have been
s by the general consent of Africa. Let us return thanks," he boldly continued, "to the youth of Thysdrus; let us
return thanks to the faithful people of Carthage
, our generous
deliverers from a horrid monster - Why do you hear me thus coolly,
thus timidly? Why do you cast those anxious looks on each other? Why hesitate? Maximin
is a public enemy! may his enmity soon
expire with him, and may we long enjoy the prudence and felicity of Gordian the father, the valor and constancy of Gordian the son!"
The noble ardor of the consul revived the languid spirit of the senate
. By a unanimous decree, the election of the Gordians was
, his son, and his adherents, were pronounced enemies of their country, and liberal rewards were offered to
whomsoever had the courage and good fortune to destroy them.
See Temple Of Castor and Pollux
Footnote 21: Quod. tamen patres dum periculosum existimant; inermes armato esistere approbaverunt. - Aurelius Victor.
Footnote 22: Even the servants of the house, the scribes, &c., were excluded, and their office was filled by the senators themselves.
We are obliged to the Augustan History. p. 159, for preserving this curious example of the old discipline of the commonwealth .
Footnote 23: This spirited speech, translated from the Augustan historian, p. 156, seems transcribed by him from the origina registers of the senate
During the emperor
's absence, a detachment of the Praetorian guards remained at Rome, to protect, or rather to
command, the capital. The Prefect
Vitalianus had signalized his fidelity to Maximin
, by the alacrity with which he had obeyed, and
even prevented the cruel mandates of the tyrant
. His death alone could rescue the authority
of the senate
, and the lives of the senators
from a state of danger and suspense. Before their resolves had transpired, a quaestor and some tribune
s were commissioned to take
his devoted life. They executed the order with equal boldness and success; and, with their bloody daggers in their hands, ran through
the streets, proclaiming to the people and the soldiers the news of the happy revolution. The enthusiasm of liberty
was seconded by
the promise of a large donative, in lands and money; the statues of Maximin
were thrown down; the capital of the empire
acknowledged, with transport, the authority
of the two Gordians and the senate
and the example of Rome was followed by the
rest of Italy.
Footnote 24: Herodian, l. vii. p. 244
A new spirit had arisen in that assembly, whose long patience had been insulted by wanton despotism
and military license. The senate
assumed the reins of government, and, with a calm intrepidity, prepared to vindicate by arms the cause of freedom. Among the
consular senators recommended by their merit and services to the favor of the emperor Alexander
, it was easy to select twenty, not
unequal to the command of an army, and the conduct of a war. To these was the defence of Italy intrusted. Each was appointed to act
in his respective department, authorized to enroll and discipline the Italian youth; and instructed to fortify the ports and highways,
against the impending invasion of Maximin
. A number of deputies, chosen from the most illustrious of the senatorial and equestrian
orders, were dispatched at the same time to the governors of the several provinces, earnestly conjuring them to fly to the assistance
of their country, and to remind the nations of their ancient ties of friendship with the Roman senate
and people. The general respect
with which these deputies were received, and the zeal of Italy and the provinces in favor of the senate
, sufficiently prove that the
subjects of Maximin
were reduced to that uncommon distress, in which the body of the people has more to fear from oppression
from resistance. The consciousness of that melancholy truth, inspires a degree of persevering fury, seldom to be found in those civil
wars which are artificially supported for the benefit of a few factious and designing leaders. 25
Footnote 25: Herodian, l. vii. p. 247, l. viii. p. 277. Hist. August. p 156-158.
For while the cause of the Gordians was embraced with such diffusive ardor, the Gordians themselves were no more. The feeble
court of Carthage
was alarmed by the rapid approach of Capelianus, governor of Mauritania, who, with a small band of veterans, and
a fierce host of barbarian
s, attacked a faithful, but unwarlike province. The younger Gordian sallied out to meet the enemy at the head
of a few guards, and a numerous undisciplined multitude, educated in the peaceful luxury of Carthage
. His useless valor served only to
procure him an honorable death on the field of battle. His aged father, whose reign had not exceeded thirty-six days, put an end to his
life on the first news of the defeat. Carthage
, destitute of defense
, opened her gates to the conqueror, and Africa was exposed to the
rapacious cruelty of a slave, obliged to satisfy his unrelenting master with a large account of blood and treasure. 26
Footnote 26: Herodian, l. vii. p. 254. Hist. August. p. 150-160. We may observe, that one month and six days, for the reign of
Gordian, is a just correction of Casaubon and Panvinius, instead of the absurd reading of one year and six months. See Commentar. p.
193. Zosimus relates, l. i. p. 17, that the two Gordians perished by a tempest in the midst of their navigation. A strange ignorance of
history, or a strange abuse of metaphors!
The fate of the Gordians filled Rome with just but unexpected terror. The senate
, convoked in the temple of Concord, affected to
transact the common business of the day; and seemed to decline, with trembling anxiety, the consideration of their own and the public
danger. A silent consternation prevailed in the assembly, till a senator, of the name and family of Trajan, awakened his brethren from
their fatal lethargy. He represented to them that the choice of cautious, dilatory measures had been long since out of their power; that
, implacable by nature, and exasperated by injuries, was advancing towards Italy, at the head of the military force of the
empire; and that their only remaining alternative was either to meet him bravely in the field, or tamely to expect the tortures and
ignominious death reserved for unsuccessful rebellion
. "We have lost," continued he, "two excellent prince
s; but unless we desert
ourselves, the hopes of the republic have not perished with the Gordians. Many are the senators whose virtues have deserved, and
whose abilities would sustain, the Imperial
dignity. Let us elect two emperor
s, one of whom may conduct the war against the public
enemy, whilst his colleague remains at Rome to direct the civil administration
I cheerfully expose myself to the danger and envy of the nomination, and give my vote in favor of Maximus
and Balbinus. Ratify my
choice, conscript fathers, or appoint in their place, others more worthy of the empire." The general apprehension silenced the whispers
of jealousy; the merit of the candidates was universally acknowledged; and the house resounded with the sincere acclamations of
"Long life and victory to the emperor
and Balbinus. You are happy in the judgment of the senate
; may the republic be happy
under your administration
Footnote 27: See the Augustan History, p. 166, from the registers of the senate; the date is confusedly faulty but the coincidence of
the Apollinatian games enables us to correct it.
The virtues and the reputation of the new emperor
s justified the most sanguine hopes of the Romans. The various nature of their
talents seemed to appropriate to each his peculiar department of peace and war, without leaving room for jealous emulation. Balbinus
was an admired orator, a poet of distinguished fame, and a wise magistrate, who had exercised with innocence and applause the civil
jurisdiction in almost all the interior provinces of the empire. His birth was noble, 28
his fortune affluent, his manners liberal and
affable. In him the love of pleasure was corrected by a sense of dignity, nor had the habits of ease deprived him of a capacity for
business. The mind of Maximus
was formed in a rougher mould. By his valor and abilities he had raised himself from the meanest
origin to the first employments of the state and army. His victories over the Sarmatians and the Germans, the austerity of his life, and
the rigid impartiality of his justice, while he was a Prefect of the city, commanded the esteem of a people whose affections were
engaged in favor of the more amiable Balbinus. The two colleagues had both been consuls, (Balbinus had twice enjoyed that honorable
office,) both had been named among the twenty lieutenants of the senate
; and since the one was sixty and the other seventy-four years
they had both attained the full maturity of age and experience.
Footnote 28: He was descended from Cornelius Balbus, a noble Spaniard, and the adopted son of Theophanes, the Greek historian.
Balbus obtained the freedom of Rome by the favor of Pompeii, and preserved it by the eloquence of Cicero. (See Orat. pro Cornel.
Balbo.) The friendship of Caesar, (to whom he rendered the most important secret services in the civil war) raised him to the
consulship and the pontificate, honors never yet possessed by a stranger. The nephew of this Balbus triumphed over the Garamantes.
See Dictionnaire de Bayle, au mot Balbus, where he distinguishes the several persons of that name, and rectifies, with his usual
accuracy, the mistakes of former writers concerning them.
Footnote 29: Zonaras, l. xii. p. 622. But little dependence is to be had on the authority of a modern Greek, so grossly ignorant of the
history of the third century, that he creates several imaginary emperors, and confounds those who really existed.
After the senate
had conferred on Maximus
and Balbinus an equal portion of the consular and tribunitian powers, the title of Fathers of
their country, and the joint office of Supreme Pontiff, they ascended to the Capitol to return thanks to the gods, protectors of Rome.
The solemn rites of sacrifice were disturbed by a sedition of the people. The licentious
multitude neither loved the rigid Maximus
nor did they sufficiently fear the mild and humane Balbinus. Their increasing numbers surrounded the temple of Jupiter; with obstinate
clamors they asserted their inherent right of consenting to the election of their sovereign
; and demanded, with an apparent moderation,
that, besides the two emperor
s, chosen by the senate
, a third should be added of the family of the Gordians, as a just return of
gratitude to those prince
s who had sacrificed their lives for the republic. At the head of the city-guards, and the youth of the equestrian
and Balbinus attempted to cut their way through the seditious multitude. The multitude, armed with sticks and stones,
drove them back into the Capitol. It is prudent to yield when the contest, whatever may be the issue of it, must be fatal to both parties.
A boy, only thirteen years of age, the grandson of the elder, and nephew *
of the younger Gordian, was produced to the people,
invested with the ornaments and title of Caesar. The tumult was appeased by this easy condescension; and the two emperor
s, as soon
as they had been peaceably acknowledged in Rome, prepared to defend Italy against the common enemy.
Footnote 30: Herodian, l. vii. p. 256, supposes that the senate was at first convoked in the Capitol, and is very eloquent on the
occasion. The Augustar History p. 116, seems much more authentic.
Footnote *: According to some, the son. - G.
Whilst in Rome and Africa, revolutions succeeded each other with such amazing rapidity, that the mind of Maximin
was agitated by
the most furious passions. He is said to have received the news of the rebellion
of the Gordians, and of the decree of the senate
him, not with the temper of a man, but the rage of a wild beast; which, as it could not discharge itself on the distant senate
the life of his son, of his friends, and of all who ventured to approach his person. The grateful intelligence of the death of the Gordians
was quickly followed by the assurance that the senate
, laying aside all hopes of pardon or accommodation, had substituted in their
room two emperor
s, with whose merit he could not be unacquainted. Revenge was the only consolation left to Maximin
, and revenge
could only be obtained by arms. The strength of the legions had been assembled by Alexander
from all parts of the empire. Three
successful campaigns against the Germans and the Sarmatians, had raised their fame, confirmed their discipline, and even increased
their numbers, by filling the ranks with the flower of the barbarian
youth. The life of Maximin
had been spent in war, and the candid
severity of history cannot refuse him the valor of a soldier, or even the abilities of an experienced general. 31
It might naturally be
expected, that a prince
of such a character, instead of suffering the rebellion
to gain stability by delay, should immediately have
marched from the banks of the Danube
to those of the Tyber, and that his victorious army, instigated by contempt for the senate
eager to gather the spoils of Italy, should have burned with impatience to finish the easy and lucrative conquest. Yet as far as we can
trust to the obscure chronology of that period, 32
it appears that the operations of some foreign war deferred the Italian expedition till
the ensuing spring. From the prudent conduct of Maximin
, we may learn that the savage
features of his character have been
exaggerated by the pencil of party, that his passions, however impetuous, submitted to the force of reason, and that the barbarian
possessed something of the generous
spirit of Sylla, who subdued the enemies of Rome before he suffered himself to revenge his
private injuries. 33
Footnote 31: In Herodian, l. vii. p. 249, and in the Augustan History, we have three several orations of Maximin to his army, on the
rebellion of Africa and Rome: M. de Tillemont has very justly observed that they neither agree with each other nor with truth. Histoire
des Empereurs, tom. iii. p. 799.
Footnote 32: The carelessness of the writers of that age, leaves us in a singular perplexity. 1. We know that Maximus and Balbinus
were killed during the Capitoline games. Herodian, l. viii. p. 285. The authority of Censorinus (de Die Natali, c. 18) enables us to fix
those games with certainty to the year 238, but leaves us in ignorance of the month or day. 2. The election of Gordian by the senate is
fixed with equal certainty to the 27th of May; but we are at a loss to discover whether it was in the same or the preceding year.
Tillemont and Muratori, who maintain the two opposite opinions, bring into the field a desultory troop of authorities, conjectures and
probabilities. The one seems to draw out, the other to contract the series of events between those periods, more than can be well
reconciled to reason and history. Yet it is necessary to choose between them. Note: Eckhel has more recently treated these
chronological questions with a perspicuity which gives great probability to his conclusions. Setting aside all the historians, whose
contradictions are irreconcilable, he has only consulted the medals, and has arranged the events before us in the following order: -
Maximin, A. U. 990, after having conquered the Germans, reenters Pannonia, establishes his winter quarters at Sirmium, and prepares
himself to make war against the people of the North. In the year 991, in the cal ends of January, commences his fourth tribunate. The Gordians are chosen emperors in Africa, probably at the beginning of the month of March. The senate confirms this election with joy, and declares Maximin the enemy of Rome. Five days after he had heard of this revolt, Maximin sets out from Sirmium on his march to Italy. These events took place about the beginning of April; a little after, the Gordians are slain in Africa by Capellianus, procurator of Mauritania. The senate, in its alarm, names as
emperors Balbus and Maximus Pupianus, and intrusts the latter with the war against Maximin. Maximin is stopped on his road near
Aquileia, by the want of provisions, and by the melting of the snows: he begins the siege of Aquileia at the end of April. Pupianus
assembles his army at Ravenna. Maximin and his son are assassinated by the soldiers enraged at the resistance of Aquileia: and this
was probably in the middle of May. Pupianus returns to Rome, and assumes the government with Balbinus; they are assassinated
towards the end of July Gordian the younger ascends the throne. Eckhel de Doct. Vol vii 295. - G.
Footnote 33: Velleius Paterculus, l. ii. c. 24. The president de Montesquieu (in his dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates) expresses the sentiments of the dictator in a spirited, and even a sublime manner.
When the troops of Maximin
, advancing in excellent order, arrived at the foot of the Julian Alps, they were terrified by the silence and
desolation that reigned on the frontiers of Italy. The villages and open towns had been abandoned on their approach by the inhabitants,
the cattle was driven away, the provisions removed or destroyed, the bridges broken down, nor was any thing left which could afford
either shelter or subsistence to an invader. Such had been the wise orders of the generals of the senate
: whose design was to protract
the war, to ruin the army of Maximin
by the slow operation of famine, and to consume his strength in the sieges of the principal cities
of Italy, which they had plentifully stored with men and provisions from the deserted country. Aquileia received and withstood the first
shock of the invasion. The streams that issue from the head of the Hadriatic Gulf, swelled by the melting of the winter snows, 34
opposed an unexpected obstacle to the arms of Maximin
. At length, on a singular bridge, constructed with art and difficulty, of large
hogsheads, he transported his army to the opposite bank, rooted up the beautiful vineyards in the neighborhood of Aquileia, demolished
the suburbs, and employed the timber of the buildings in the engines and towers, with which on every side he attacked the city. The
walls, fallen to decay during the security of a long peace, had been hastily repaired on this sudden emergency: but the firmest defence
of Aquileia consisted in the constancy of the citizens; all ranks of whom, instead of being dismayed, were animated by the extreme
danger, and their knowledge of the tyrant
's unrelenting temper. Their courage was supported and directed by Crispinus and
Menophilus, two of the twenty lieutenants of the senate
, who, with a small body of regular troops, had thrown themselves into the
besieged place. The army of Maximin
was repulsed in repeated attacks, his machines destroyed by showers of artificial fire; and the
enthusiasm of the Aquileians was exalted into a confidence of success, by the opinion that Belenus, their tutelar deity,
combated in person in the defence of his distressed worshippers. 35
Footnote 34: Muratori (Annali d' Italia, tom. ii. p. 294) thinks the melting of the snows suits better with the months of June or July,
than with those of February. The opinion of a man who passed his life between the Alps and the Apennines, is undoubtedly of great
weight; yet I observe, 1. That the long winter, of which Muratori takes advantage, is to be found only in the Latin version, and not in
the Greek text of Herodian. 2. That the vicissitudes of suns and rains, to which the soldiers of Maximin were exposed, (Herodian, l.
viii. p. 277,) denote the spring rather than the summer. We may observe, likewise, that these several streams, as they melted into one,
composed the Timavus, so poetically (in every sense of the word) described by Virgil. They are about twelve miles to the east of
Aquileia. See Cluver. Italia Antiqua, tom. i. p. 189, &c.
Footnote 35: Herodian, l. viii. p. 272. The Celtic deity was supposed to be Apollo, and received under that name the thanks of the
senate. A temple was likewise built to Venus the Bald, in honor of the women of Aquileia, who had given up their hair to make ropes
for the military engines.
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To cite original text:
Gibbon, Edward, 1737-1794. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
1st ed. (London : Printed for W. Strahan ; and T. Cadell, 1776-1788.), pp. 181-188.